UPDATED: ‘£6m cash injection won’t be enough to save failing children’s service’

Bucks County Council headquarters
Bucks County Council headquarters

It is ‘inevitable’ that Bucks’ beleaguered children’s services department will blow their improvement budget.

It is ‘inevitable’ that Bucks’ beleaguered children’s services department will blow their improvement budget.

The admission came from the service’s acting strategic director Trevor Boyd, at the first stage of an inquiry into how failings in the department led to them being branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

Last week Bucks County Council approved a near-£6m cash injection into the department which was taken from its emergency fund.

The meeting heard that £4.8million of this would be used as a bail out just for keeping the service afloat, while £1million would be used bring the service up to scratch.

But Mr Boyd, who has taken over Sue Imbriano, claimed that he had already sought assurances from council leader Martin Tett that extra money would be available if needs be.

He said: “In the event that the £1million proves insufficient for the interim plan, the cabinet are prepared to consider further investment.

“It inevitably will cost more than £1million.”

Any extra investment beyond the £1milion will be considered when the department has completed its Ofsted Improvement Plan, details of which have yet to be revealed.

Children’s services bosses at the meeting also revealed that 85% of their current workforce is made up of agency social workers, who are more expensive and could move on at any time.

With a view to getting down to just 20% agency staff, department chiefs say that some of the money will go towards bringing the number of the council’s first response team social workers up from 13 to 20.

They say that this will help reduce caseloads, and help to a steadier workforce, as staff have previously left over the sheer amount of work they are expected to take on.

Children’s service at the council historically exceeds its annual £41million budget.

The department says that many of the recent overspends have been the result of an influx in referrals following the Jimmy Savile scandal and that it is working to forge stronger links with partners including the police.

The children’s service team also discussed how important it was that national government puts it weight behind a campaign to encourage young people to take up social work as an attractive career choice.

Committee members encouraged the department to put pressure on the Department For Education make this a priority.

The Education, Skills and Children’s Select Committee launched the in-depth inquiry to review the improvement plans for the children’s services department.

As part of the review, the inquiry which will run until spring 2015, will examine evidence from a wide range of expert witnesses including those from other local authorities and local partner agencies.

Speaking prior to last week’s meeting, chairman of the committee, Valerie Letheren, said: “Making sure the recommendations identified by both the Task and Finish Group and Ofsted are addressed fully is a top priority for us, as it is for the County Council and the local partnership.

“All of us were very disappointed about the Ofsted inspection result, and we in the select committee will be playing a very important part in the improvement plan which the Cabinet Member, Angela Macpherson is already working on, to get this right and make sure that we go back to being good.

“We’re not the only authority that this has happened to under the new harsher Ofsted regime, but we’re going to be one of the first to get out of it.”